New restrictions will begin taking effect next week, aimed at reducing contact between people as COVID-19 cases in Washington continue to climb.

In addition to a stricter order on face masks, the new rules affect restaurants, bars and gyms followed by tighter limits on weddings and funerals starting in August.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee said the public needs to understand that minimizing interactions with others is crucial in halting spread of the virus.

“At the moment, the only effective tool against this pandemic is to change some of our practices,” he said, noting that Washington has had about 50,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,500 deaths.

As of July 30, only people living in the same household can dine indoors together in restaurants. Dining with someone from a different household must take place outdoors.

In Phase 2 counties, including Skagit County, fitness facilities and indoor pools must be capped at five occupants, not including staff.

Alcohol sales at both bars and restaurants must cease at 10 p.m. daily, and bars will no longer be able to offer indoor services or features like pool tables and video games, Inslee said.

Also during the conference, state Secretary of Health John Wiesman announced expansion of the masking order to all common places, like elevators or apartment complex hallways, effective Saturday. A previous order only applied in public places.

Weddings and funerals will have new limits next month. As of Aug. 6, ceremonies are limited to 20% occupancy or 30 people, whichever is less. Receptions will not be allowed.

Inslee extended a statewide moratorium on evictions to Oct. 15. It had been set to expire Aug. 1.

With a recent update to the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard, Skagit County is failing in four of the five metrics in Inslee’s Safe Start Plan.

As of July 21, 83.3% of county hospital beds were occupied, passing the goal of staying at 80% or below.

The county is still succeeding in the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. At 4.2%, this figure is well below Inslee’s goal of under 10%.

While there has been an increase in COVID-19 patients in county hospitals, Skagit County Public Health officer Howard Leibrand said this increase in occupied beds isn’t too concerning because there are ways to create room.

“It’s pretty easy to stop (elective) surgeries if you need to,” he said.

Meanwhile, Skagit County reported 11 new COVID-19 cases and one new death on Thursday for a total of 723 cases and 18 deaths since the pandemic began.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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